Archives for thriller

Book preview: The Whistler

This is the first time I’ve written a preview of an unpublished book of which I have read only the first four chapters. The exception is because the author is John Grisham. I’ve learned a lot about writing from Grisham’s early books, he is a master of building tension, a master of the slow-burn. I’m a fan, right back to A Time to Kill, The Firm and The Pelican Brief. So does The Whistler stand tall beside my favourites? Truth is, it’s difficult to say. I haven’t read chapter five yet. Grisham has never been an author to start with a wham-bang first chapter. He introduces characters and backgrounds, both essential in legal thrillers. And that’s what he does with The Whistler. But what I read made me want to read it all. The classic Grisham elements are there. The setting is Florida where those who help the state to recover illegally acquired assets get a big payout. The protagonist is Lacy Stoltz, an investigator for the Florida Board on Judicial Conduct. She is a lawyer, not a policewoman. Into Lacy’s ordinary world walks Greg Myers, a dodgy lawyer with an assumed name. He has a client, a whistleblower willing
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Don’t You Cry

This novel explores how easy it is to make assumptions and how this guesswork is so often wrong. This is the third novel by Mary Kubica, all thoughtful mysteries, carefully written and detailed. It took me longer to get into this one, but Kubica spends time drawing the characters and I was prepared to go along with her. There are two narrators. In Chicago, Quinn’s roommate disappears. After a couple of days waiting for Esther to return and wondering if she has done anything to upset her, Quinn starts to poke around looking for answers. The first things she finds are confusing, they contradict the Esther she knows, or thinks she knows. And then she starts to wonder what Esther is hiding. Quinn’s voice is alternated with Alex, a young man who lives in the small town where he grew up on the shore of Lake Michigan. He is a nice guy, who passed up on college for a boring low-paid in a rundown lakeside café so he can care for his drunken father. He takes lunch to Ingrid, a housebound elderly lady and stays to eat with her, and to play cards. One day, he goes to work and
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Pretty Baby

Don’t be fooled by the cover photograph, this is not a thriller about trains. Pretty Baby by Mary Kubica is a psychological tale of parenting, grief, abuse, and husbands and wives who stop communicating and stop interacting. At times I had to take a gulp and accept some situations which seemed unrealistic to me, it was either that or put the book down. Heidi and Chris live with their daughter Zoe in Chicago. One freezing wintery day, running for a train, Heidi spots a homeless girl with a baby. She hesitates, wondering whether to say something, and then the girl is gone. Wishing she had helped, Heidi looks out for the girl the next day… and takes her home. Zoe sees it as an invasion of her space, Chris worries about who the girl – Willow, with baby Ruby – really is, and whether she poses a threat to his family and property. Both are right to be worried. At times I grew impatient with Heidi for indulging herself and impatient for Chris to show some intuition and see what was really going on. Unfortunately Chris is a bit of a stereotype, the hard-working banker husband who spends more time
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Farm

This book by Tom Rob Smith is the best thriller I’ve read this year, one of those ‘who do I believe?’ scenarios. It’s an ordinary day for Daniel until his mobile rings. It’s his father. “Your mother’s sick… She’s not well… She’s been imagining things.” His mother is in hospital, he says, she’s been committed. As Daniel prepares to fly to Sweden where his parents live, his father calls again; his mother is missing. His mobile rings again, it is his mother. She says his father is lying. Who to believe? And so starts The Farm, a book which questions the parent/sibling relationship, lies told within the family, and how far a family can be stretched before it breaks. It is a story of a Swedish woman and her English husband retiring to a farm in rural Sweden, looking for a new start, an active retirement, anticipating being part of a close-knit community. Tilde arrives in London and tells Daniel that his father is lying. She is not ill, she is in danger, she has discovered crimes, lies, irregularities. At all times she carries an old leather satchel which she says is full of evidence. Who to believe? Life on
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Bone Church

This was a difficult story to get into for me, which surprised me. The premise by Victoria Dougherty seems so good – Czechoslovakia, wartime, fugitive lovers, a faked religious icon, and a plot to assassinate Josef Goebbels – the promise of which kept me reading. But I found the time shifts, the point of view shifts, and the way the action changed from paragraph to paragraph quite confusing. Assuming this was a formatting issue with my Kindle copy, I kept reading. The story starts in Rome in 1956 in the Vatican City with a Cardinal and a man called Felix. Then we see Magdalena and her son Ales in Czechoslovakia, a man arrives and takes away her son. Then the action switched to 1943, as Felix and Magdalena are on the run in Prague. He is a famous hockey player, a celebrity, she is a Jew. By this point, the story should have gripped me but I’m afraid it didn’t, I hadn’t read enough about the two characters to care. I think my basic problem is the way the story was told, not the actual story itself; the writing is rich with description and the author certainly knows her history. Halfway
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Disclaimer

Catherine moves house and finds a novel which she can’t remember buying. But this is no ordinary book. It pretends to be fiction, but Catherine recognises herself as one of the characters and the story discloses a secret. “A secret she has told no-one, not even her husband and son – two people who think they know her better than anyone else.” So, Disclaimer by Renee Knight includes a novel-within-a-novel. This novel explores how one secret, hidden and almost forgotten, can re-emerge 20 years later to do damage. But it is also a warning about the danger of making assumptions without all the facts. The reader makes assumptions, Catherine’s husband makes assumptions, and the writer of the novel makes assumptions. Nothing is what it seems, in the tradition of good thrillers, and this book will make you believe first one version of the truth, and then another. Which is the real one? Is Catherine a good mother, or a bad mother? If you like ‘Disclaimer’, try:- ‘The Returned’ by Jason Mott ‘Girl Runner’ by Carrie Snyder ‘The Lightning Tree’ by Emily Woof ‘Disclaimer’ by Renee Knight [UK: Harper] Buy now And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS
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Categories: Book Love.

How Paula Hawkins writes

Paula Hawkins “The set-up is often the fun part. You can set up all these scenarios and all these red herrings, but drawing all those strands into a believable conclusion is actually incredibly difficult to do in a way that isn’t hackneyed… It’s a really hard thing to make that final fifth a convincing ending.” [in an interview with ‘The Bookseller’ magazine, October 31, 2014] The Girl on the Train is a fantastic thriller, but I think there is a misconception that only the writers of thrillers worry about laying clues and red herrings. All novels need storylines which tease the reader to keep reading, to turn the page, to read one chapter more before turning the light out. Laying clues about characters, their past, their secrets, their betrayals, hopes and dreams, can be as complicated as plotting a thriller. Perhaps the clues are not as dramatic as in a thriller, but still there needs to be a trail of breadcrumbs for the reader to follow. Read my review of The Girl on the Train. For more about the film of the book, and Paula Hawkins’ second thriller, click here. See how these other novelists write:- Hanya Yanagihara Anne Tyler
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Book review: The Girl on the Train

This book has been hyped much in the pre-publicity and I can understand why. After a slowish start, I finished it at a sprint and rarely put it down. The girl on the train in The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins, is a voyeur, she watches people in their houses. On her morning commute, her train regularly stops at a red light and she looks at a house and ponders the perfect life of the people who live there. She is fantasising, you think, and then you realise she isn’t. She knows the people. Or does she? You never know where you are with Rachel’s account of what happens, she is the ultimate unreliable narrator. The problem is she is a drunk, a falling-over, hungover woman who swigs alcohol on the train and suffers memory blackouts. At no point do you know whether to believe her version of the truth. She says, “I wonder where it started, my decline; I wonder at what point I could have halted it.” In contrast to Rachel, there is Megan, the woman who lives in the house by the railway. She seems a more reliable source of information, or is she? She
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Categories: Book Love.

New books coming soon

Jax Miller  Debut author Jax Miller has signed a two-book deal with HarperFiction. The first, Freedom’s Child, will be published in summer 2015. It tells the story of Freedom, a woman who has spent 18 years living under the Witness Protection programme after murdering her husband. When the daughter she gave birth to in prison, and gave up for adoption, goes missing, Freedom is determined to find her child. The deal also includes a second un-named title. Miller was born and grew up in New York but now lives in Ireland. Under her real name, Aine O’ Domhnaill, she was shortlisted for the CWA debut dagger for unpublished writers in 2013. Follow Jax Miller on Twitter at @JaxMillerAuthor Kirsty Logan  The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan will be published by Harvill Secker in Spring 2015. Described as a combination of Angela Carter and Michael Faber, Logan writes in the magical realism tradition. In The Gracekeepers, North and her bear live on a circus boat, floating between the scattered archipelagoes that are all that remains of the land. To survive, the circus must perform for the few fortunate islanders in return for food and supplies. Meanwhile, in the middle of the ocean, Callanish
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Categories: Book Love.

New books coming soon

Sarah Hall The Wolf Border, the latest novel from Sarah Hall, one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists 2013, will be published by Faber in April 2015 and by Harper Press in the US. Set against a background of political tumult – Scottish independence, land reform, and power struggles – The Wolf Border investigates the fundamental nature of wilderness and wildness, both animal and human. It explores our concepts of ecology and evolution, re-wilding projects and the challenges faced by modern rural landscapes. Faber Social’s creative director, Lee Brackstone, said: “Sarah Hall [above] is rightly thought to be one of the most original literary talents of her generation and each new book confirms and builds on the promise of her great early novels. The Wolf Border is a novel with enormous narrative and contemporary urgency. In some ways it marks a return to the world of her first novel, Haweswater, but here is a writer in full maturity, at the top of her game.” For Sarah Hall’s website, click here. Renee Knight Disclaimer, the debut psychological thriller by Faber Academy alumnus Knight, is to be published by Transworld in Spring 2015 as hardback and paperback a year later. How would
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Corners of the Globe

Very fast-moving sequel by Robert Goddard with a Scotland to London train chase complete with spies, a captured German warship, murder, kidnapping, secret codes and jumping on and off trains which would rival The 39 Steps [which Goddard playfully has one of his characters read in the restaurant car of one of the trains]. The first book in ‘The Wide World’ series by Robert Goddard [below] left me wanting more, and I turned straight to The Corners of the Globe to continue the story. A plane flight from Spain to the UK and a stint in the doctor’s waiting room ensured that I flew through it. You really do need to read book one first [see the link below for my review], although there is a little exposition at the beginning in the form of a Secret Service report, but to be honest it functions more as a recap for the reader who has read the first book than as an introduction for a newcomer. Goddard is a consummate storyteller and sells millions of books worldwide, the majority of his books have made the UK’s Sunday Times Top 10 Bestsellers lists. I failed to guess the ending of the first book, did I
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Good Girl

The Good Girl by Mary Kubica starts with a missing girl, woman really, though we first hear the news of the disappearance of Mia Dennett from her mother’s point of view. And to her mother, Mia is still a girl though she is a schoolteacher. Detective Gabe Hoffman is bemused that Mia’s parents don’t seem to visit their daughter’s apartment. And then, the time shifts and it is after Mia’s return and we are with Mia and her parents on the way to psychiatrist. Amnesia. Mia cannot remember what happened. And so the story is pieced together. Mia’s kidnap is told from multiple viewpoints; before, during and after the event over a winter in Chicago. Everyone in this dysfunctional family seems to have their own agenda. But Mia cannot remember what happened in that cabin where she was held captive by a man called Owen for three months. The setting of the Minnesota cabin in winter is so clearly drawn I could be there, a mixture of beautiful, intimidating and claustrophobic. The eerie quiet, the ice fishing, the extreme cold. The feeling of being trapped, in more ways than one. Mary Kubica handles the transition of the kidnap relationship so
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Ways of the World

I was a fan as soon as I read Robert Goddard’s first novel, Past Caring, published in 1986. He is a hard-working author, producing regular novels, and I admit I got out of the habit of buying them. Until The Corners of the Globe. I started reading, realised it was part two of a series, and promptly ordered book one on Kindle, the quickest way of getting it. The Ways of the World didn’t let me down, not for nothing is Robert Goddard called ‘the king of the triple-cross’. In buying the book, I inadvertently read the reviews on Amazon, something I always try to avoid if I plan to review a book on my blog. I’d rather make up my own mind. Some of the reviews were mixed but I have to say I didn’t find this slow-going at all, perhaps it can be explained by the fact that this is the first of a series and therefore the plotting is intricate. The first book in a series must always include a fair amount of ‘setting-up’, what Christopher Vogler calls ‘The Ordinary World’. Perhaps the reviewer who thought the book slow-going didn’t get beyond that Ordinary World. Goddard, though,
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Gone Girl

I feel like the last person to read this book by Gillian Flynn. I don’t know why I didn’t read it earlier, I like clever thrillers, but somehow I just didn’t get around to it. I was partly put off by the range of reviews of Amazon, I must admit, from 5 stars to 2 stars. This is definitely a Marmite book: love it or hate it. But then the publicity for the film started and I always like to read the book before I see the film, so… I got it from the library. Gone Girl is about the fracturing of a five-year old marriage. We get both points of view: Nick the husband, Amy the wife. Basically one day, Amy disappears. There are signs of a struggle in the house. Nick goes predictably quickly from being lost husband to prime suspect. I have to admit. I did not like Amy from page one of her diary, her language is so OTT and flowery. “I am fat with love! Husky with ardor! Morbidly obese with devotion! A happy, busy bumblebee of marital enthusiasm.” Ugh. Neither was I overly keen on Nick, I guess overall I found it overwritten and
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Accident

This is the story of an abusive relationship, an accident and a mental breakdown. The action takes place in 1990-1992 and the present day. The tension winds up in both strands so you don’t want to put down the book. I found myself picking up my Kindle every spare five minutes, just to read a few more pages. The Accident by CL Taylor has a sense of expectant horror: ‘surely that’s not going to happen’, ‘surely she’s not going to do this, or that’. Charlotte, the fifteen year old daughter of Sue and Brian Jackson, is in a coma. Apparently she stepped off the pavement in front of a bus. As Sue and Brian sit by their daughter’s hospital bed, they disagree about what happened. Brian thinks it’s an accident, Sue worries Charlotte had some sort of problem she couldn’t discuss with her parents. And so begins the re-telling of Sue’s dark past, about the demons she struggles with, and the determination she has to fight the past interfering with her present life. The unravelling of the truth puts pressure on the Jacksons’ marriage and Sue’s sanity. The two parents deal with the tragedy in their own way and Sue,
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Accident

This is a fast-moving thriller with so many questions. To start with, we have the Prologue about an unidentified man writing a book. This is his third draft of a manuscript called ‘The Accident’. An excerpt from his m/s finishes: “…if what you are reading is a finished book, printed and bound and distributed into the world, I am, almost certainly, dead.” I was hooked. The Accident is the second novel of Chris Pavone, his favourite thriller writer is John Le Carré and he certainly paces his storytelling the same way. The next person we meet is Isabel Reed, a New York literary agent. It is dawn and she has just finished reading a manuscript: ‘The Accident by Anonymous’. She is astounded at the enormity of the story, the revelations and accusations. As well as being a page-turning thriller, this novel is also an insight of the publishing world in New York and how the connections of power function in the USA: media, publishing, Government, CIA, black-ops. Isabel was once a top literary agent, now she is desperate for the last big m/s. Is this it? She stands under the shower: “It all beats down on her, the shower stream
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Categories: Book Love.

Great opening paragraph 20… ‘Notes on a Scandal’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“1 March 1998. The other night at dinner, Sheba talked about the first time that she and the Connolly boy kissed. I had heard most of it before, of course, there being few aspects of the Connolly business that Sheba has not described to me several times over. But this time round, something new came up. I happened to ask her if anything about the first embrace had surprised her. She laughed. Yes, the smell of the whole thing had been surprising, she said. She hadn’t anticipated his personal odour and if she had, she would probably have guessed at something teenagey: bubble gum, cola, feet.” ‘Notes on a Scandal’ by Zoe Heller  Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche ‘I’ll Take You There’ by Joyce Carol Oates ‘Death in Summer’ by William Trevor And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: A #FirstPara which makes me want to read more: NOTES ON A SCANDAL by Zoe Heller #amwriting http://wp.me/p5gEM4-84 via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Great opening paragraph 6… ‘Goldfinger’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“James Bond, with two double bourbons inside him, sat in the final departure lounge of Miami Airport and thought about life and death.” ‘Goldfinger’ by Ian Fleming Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘The Murder Room’ by PD James ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche ‘Couples’ by John Updike And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: Does this make you want more? GOLDFINGER by Ian Fleming http://wp.me/p5gEM4-7F via @SandraDanby #amwriting
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.